Last week I went to my first ever National Biodiversity Network (NBN) conference, which this year took part in York. Due to the recent untimely death of the CEO of the NBN, John Sawyer, I thought it would be a sombre affair in many ways, but it was a celebration of his work and his legacy. I was kindly asked to speak at the event about my outlook on biological recording from a young persons perspective. It was a huge honor and I have never been so nervous in my life, but I am glad I did it. You can see a copy of my talk by clicking on the photo below.
I would now like to highlight my favourite 10 talks from the event, it is worth looking at #NBNConf15 for a flavour of the whole event.
Alison Dyke – OPAL UK: From Local Action to National Relevance
Alison’s talk looked at the work of the Open Air Laboratory in engaging a wide variety of people with biological recording. Alison spoke about citizen science and the balance between generating quality data and engaging a wide variety of people. Through my work on the Garden Bioblitz, I know this is a fine balance but think doing both at the same time is achievable. OPAL have engaged nearly a million people with their work and are publishing the research in scientific papers!
Roderic Page – Global Perspectives on Biodiversity Data
Roderic’s talk looked at the future of data. The future is digital and based on DNA. He also spoke about how paywalls make research tricky and how seemingly some people don’t want their data to be used. All in all his talk was enjoyable and entertaining.
Liam Lysaght – The National Biodiversity Data Centre
Liam is from the National Biodiversity Data Centre, which is a national organisation that collates, manages and analyses and disseminates data on Ireland’s biodiversity. Liam had free range on setting up this centre in Ireland which gave a really interesting perspective on what biological records centres can achieve with passionate people behind it. Their data is open and data summaries can be downloaded at a click by anyone… just wonderful! I also found their approach to validating their models by using citizen science data.
Tom August – Information and Innovation
Tom gave a 5 minute speed talk, which was a great way to get across points quickly and with passion. I have long admired Tom for his innovative visions for data visualisation, and this talk was no different. There is no point collecting data if it isn’t used. Tom creates the tools in which to visualise data and make it more accessible to everyone, not just naturalists. I agree with him, ‘data is beautiful’
Richard Burkmar – Visualising Biodiversity Knowledge Bases
Rich is another person that I have spoken to online before but never in person. He works for the Field Studies Council and spoke about some cool things that they are doing on the Tomorrow’s Biodiversity Project. This includes the creation of online multi-access identification keys. He gave us a demonstration of the earthworm key, which was really exciting. It appeared to make identification much easier and I can’t wait to use it and the harvestman key that they are currently developing.
Andy Musgrove – Omnithology
Andy works for the British Trust for Ornithology and is a biological recording machine! He annually submits an incredible number of records for an incredible number of species. He spoke about harnessing the power of the birding community to record other taxonomic groups as well. I now happen to stumble upon birds as they are eating my beloved invertebrates, but Andy’s talk looked at getting people interested in other groups as well as birds. 65% of pan species listers (people who record every taxonomic group that they can), started by recording birds so I see birds as a gateway drug to more interesting taxa.
Janet Simkin – Filling The Gaps: The Lobarian Survey
Byrophytes and lichens are a group that I am keen to get into more, but are very tricky to identify. Janet is a lichenologist and spoke of the Lobarian community of lichens. It is worth giving lobarian a quick google and looking at these charismatic lichens. Janet spoke about a project ran by the British Lichen Society which looked at assessing whether the distribution and abundance of these lichens are declining. Unfortunately this survey showed that all the lobarian lichens surveyed are declining in England and Wales. Often restricted to a single thallus on a single tree.
Paula Lightfoot – Seasearch
The marine environment is often neglected in terms of biological recording with less than 3% of records on the NBN gateway comprising of marine organisms. Yet the area covered is 3x as large. Paula spoke about Seasearch’s work to help change this. Seasearch gets scuba divers to record the species they have seen, and even trains them. She spoke about how data collected by local people empowers local communities to try get protection and raise awareness for the marine environment. Paula’s talk was rather funny and was full of fish puns, making the audience cringe and laugh at the same time.
Katie Watson – Nature Reserves: The Effect of Artificial Light Pollution on Bat Species Richness and Abundance
It was great to see young people invited to speak at this event. Katie spoke very well and her speed talk looked at her sandwich year research looking at the effect of light pollution on bats. In summary light pollution is bad for bats, which I think most people know. But it was really nice to see this proven statistically and I hope Katie continues her research and shares it. I do all I can through my planning work to reduce light pollution in sensitive areas, and this research helps support that.
Chris du Feu – Slugs and Data Flow
Chris gave us a hilarious talk on biological recording from a volunteers perspective. I imagine everyone in the room is a passionate biological recorder, but it is always nice to see the perspective of others. Chris spoke about how a small thank you goes a long way and his love for slugs. He spoke about how records going nowhere is demotivating for recorders. Something I know all too well.
The conference ended with Andy Cements handing over 145 million records from the British Trust for Ornithology, as a legacy to John. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room at that point. I didn’t even know John that well, but know he was an amazing man who revolutionised the NBN and whose legacy will live on.
On the Thursday evening there was an awards ceremony highlighting the work of young and old biological recorders alike, this was really touching. Maybe one day I will be up there receiving an award. The talks and awards ceremony were superb, but equally good was the ability to network with other biodiversity professionals and meet like-minded individuals. I really look forward to going again next year.
On Saturday I led the creation of a bee hotel at the Three Hagges Wood Meadow, an amazing project creating a wood-meadow in Yorkshire. A great end to a lovely few days.